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Poets Pay Tribute to Don Drummond
Five Jamaican poets gathered to explore and celebrate the nature and impact of iconic trombonist Don Drummond, whose music and tragic fate have inspired many poetic verses. Dubbed ‘Celebration and Solitude: Don D as Songster and Poetic Muse’ the event featured the poetry and musings of Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris, Lorna Goodison, Jerry Small, Raymond Mair and Kwame Dawes, who pulled double duty as session symposiarch.
'Celebration and Solitude' was the second event in the four-week long exploration of Don Drummond being staged by the Jamaica Music Museum for its 2016 Reggae Month series, Groundation.
Herbie Miller, curator of the museum, and chief architect of the series, set the context for Don Drummond’s wider social significance, and the reason the JaMM is focusing on his art, artistry and impact for Reggae Month 2016.
“I believe that Don is important for more than his sound,” Miller said. “He embodies what it is to be a Jamaican in a post-slavery society.”
Kwame Dawes strengthened this reference by describing Drummond’s music as a “grand metaphor” for Jamaica.
“It becomes the sound that defines us,” Dawes said. “What he [Drummond] could achieve with just that sound, for a writer, that beauty - it’s sometimes difficult, some would say impossible, but we try. Sometimes we fail, but it will be a beautiful failure.”
Dawes explained that musicians like Drummond have provided our writers with a legacy on which they can, and have built.
“These geniuses have done tremendous things for our art, given us a grounding from which to leap,” Dawes said.
Each of the five poets read pieces about Drummond. Mair, the first of the poets, started out with Anthony McNeil’s ‘For Don D’ and followed it with his own ‘Tribute to Don Drummond’. As Mair came to the final words of his poem, he teared up and his voice cracked with the strain of holding back tears. Later, the possible reason was revealed as Mair explained that he had written the poem after an encounter with Drummond, and many of the words, were actually what Drummond had said to him during the conversation.
Mervyn Morris, who declared that he had no personal knowledge of Drummond, eloquently contextualize Drummond and his impact on Jamaican society, even though few were intimate with him.
“People often described him as a person they found unknowable,” Morris said. Morris also read his iconic Drummond piece ‘Valley Prince’ which captures Drummond as an enigma, as well as his tumultuous relationship with Marguerita Mafood, whom Drummond eventually murdered.
Morris’ indictment of Marguerita as ‘whore’ was a clear issue of contention for Goodison, who focused equal attention to both. Having read poems for both Drummond and Marguerita, Goodison argued that theirs was one of true love.
“She was utterly devoted to this man,” Goodison said of Marguerita.
Though he pointed out that his poetry was heavily inspired by Drummond, rather than presenting this poetry, Jerry Small read from editorials he had written about the trombonist in The Abeng. Small’s meandering (and often entertaining) input brought with it much insight about Drummond from both a personal and sociological perspective. Small argued that Drummond had such a lasting impact because of how his music affected listeners.
“Is because of the way the man [Drummond] play and stimulate you, both to soothe and to rouse,” Small said.
Small highlighted that musicians in Jamaica carry a revolutionary ethos that replaces are significant for not only carrying on the revolutionary ferment, after politicians had dropped their good intentions, but also because the music soothed the populace even while satisfying their desire for revolution.
“If we never have no music y’know,” Small said, “is one raas inna Jamaica.”
For Goodison, a huge part of Drummond’s continued relevance is his ability to capture sorrow in his music.
“Is like he had collected some of our collective sorrows and wrote it in music,” Goodison said. “It’s like those groanings that cannot be uttered.”
Drummond’s social and artistic impact was finally underscored by trombonist Andrew Christian who had delivered snatches of Drummond as obbligato to the poets, as well as segues between sections. Christian delivered the final note, beautiful note to the evening with Drummond’s ‘Paul Bogle’.
The session took place at the Institute of Jamaica lecture Hall on Sunday, February 14, at 2:00 pm. The Reggae Month 2016 Groundation series continues through to Sunday, February 28, 2016.